SEATTLE — Items containing high fructose corn syrup are the latest products that PCC Natural Markets here has bid adieu to.
Earlier this year the certified organic retailer stopped sourcing foods containing artificial trans fats and all fresh dairy products containing the artificial growth hormone rBGH, which is used to increase the milk production of dairy cows.
PCC decided to rid its shelves of the highly processed sweetener because it has no nutritive value and has been linked to many potentially damaging effects on health, according to spokeswoman Diana Crane.
“HFCS has infiltrated huge numbers of mainstream grocery items, and PCC is proud to be a front-runner in removing it from our offerings,” she said. “If a manufacturer makes a commitment, then all consumers gain regardless of whether it was on the retailer's radar or not.”
Confections marketed by Judy's Candy Co. and Just Desserts' lemon cake were among the sweets reformulated in response to the mandate PCC announced to its suppliers in March 2006. Power Bar also reformulated its products, but the eight-store cooperative can't say that it was in direct response to its request, according to Crane.
A 26,000-stockkeeping-unit review revealed that less than 1% of PCC's total product offering contained HFCS prior to its directive, which had the greatest impact on the carbonated soft drink and bar categories.
“Almost all of PCC's products had already been HFCS-free, but some items had been reformulated to contain HFCS,” said Crane. “Manufacturers can change product ingredients without notification.”
PCC's trading partners were given until July 2007 to reformulate. Products from suppliers unwilling to reformulate were discontinued beginning in June 2006. “Manufacturers were given a year to replace HFCS in their products, and repackaging and a reformulation plan with specified target dates were required,” Crane said.
Although manufacturer feedback was “very positive,” compliance was easier for some than others.
“Smaller companies, such as Judy's Candy Co., switched sweeteners immediately, while larger companies required more time to make changes,” Crane said.
Not all suppliers were willing to comply with PCC's request. The retailer began sourcing some new fruit-juice and stevia-sweetened carbonated beverages as a result. They include Zevia, Fizzy Lizzy and RW Knudsen Spritzers.
HFCS is commonly used to sweeten soft drinks, condiments and baked goods because it is less expensive than other sweeteners like sugar cane, it's in liquid form and it's easier to blend, according to PCC.
“The American price of sugar and government subsidies of corn crops, from which HFCS is made, have resulted in HFCS being an attractive sweetener for major food and beverage manufacturers,” according to a statement released by PCC. “However, most, if not all, HFCS is likely to be derived from genetically modified corn, yet another consumer health concern.”
PCC sells foods containing natural sweeteners, including evaporated cane juice, molasses, honey, maple syrup and stevia.
Crane would not speculate as to which ingredient might be next on its chopping block.
“PCC is constantly performing category reviews of its all-natural product line,” she said.
PCC's announcement was made a day before the Food and Drug Administration held a hearing to consider whether to regulate sodium content in processed foods. It will take months to reach a decision, Grocery Manufacturers Association spokesman Scott Openshaw said.
“We have shoppers who would like more low-sodium products, so help from the FDA on this would be a good thing,” said Crane.